Via Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
Last spring, an HLAB student attorney was able to win a victory for both his client and all tenants in Massachusetts. Louis Fisher ’16 argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Meikle v. Nurse on November 5, 2015. The appeal arose from a case where a housing court judge ruled that a counterclaim for a violation of Massachusetts’s security deposit law does not qualify as a defense against eviction under what is known as the “8A trigger.” In no-fault or nonpayment eviction cases, counterclaims against the landlord can usually be used as a defense to an eviction under Massachusetts G.L.c. 239 § 8A. The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau appealed the ruling, with Deena Greenberg, ’15, as the original lead student attorney and Louis taking over in the 2015-16 school year. In an atypical move, the Supreme Judicial Court picked up the appeal directly from Boston Housing Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
On April 27, 2016, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of Ms. Nurse, overturning the Boston Housing Court ruling. The S.J.C. held that landlord violations of the security deposit law are a defense to eviction, stating that “it would be contrary to legislative intent to interpret [the 8A trigger] in a manner that would undermine a tenant’s right to assert the range of protections available under the summary process statute.” Thanks to the work of Louis, Deena, their clinical instructor Pattie Whiting, and the many other people who helped moot and prepare for the appellate argument, tenants have a firm foundation to defend themselves against an eviction if their landlord violates the security deposit laws.